All repetitions should be completed to absolute failure on every exercise. When I say “failure,”
I mean you push your muscles to the point at which you just can’t do another rep. For example, if you’re required to do twelve repetitions of an exercise, the last three or four should be a real struggle, so much so that you couldn’t do another rep even if you wanted to. The first eight or nine reps don’t do anything to shape your physique at all; it’s the last few that create change in your body. If you only go through the motions and don’t challenge yourself, expect that lacklustre effort to be reflected back at you in the mirror. I have seen it with my very own eyes—people who go to the gym for years, sometimes even with a personal trainer, and they end up looking exactly the same because they do what they have always done, so they get what they have always got.
When you train to failure, you create microscopic tears in your muscle fibers, which is why you experience soreness. This is not to be confused with pushing yourself to the point of extreme pain and injury. The idea is that these small tears will create soreness, not injury; there’s a big difference between the two. Once you have broken your muscle fibers down, your body requires rest and protein to repair the tears. The muscle will then respond by growing in size and density in preparation for the likelihood of a larger stress being placed upon it. The most important thing to remember when it comes to your strength-training sessions: don’t hold back in your workouts, and your results won’t hide from you.
To ensure you get the most out of your workouts, you must pay attention to proper weight selection. You want to be sure to perform the exercises with an amount of weight that will put your muscles under the right amount of stress. Guys, don’t train with your ego, and ladies, you are stronger than you think—and please remember that challenging your muscles does not mean bulking them up. The key is to use a weight that allows you to maintain proper form (study the images that accompany the exercises for a demonstration of proper form). Here’s an easy way to test what weight you should be using: if you find yourself reaching failure at three or more reps higher than the required amount, increase the weight; if you find that you stop three or more reps short of the required number, lighten the load a little.